“It’s hard to see where you are going without knowing where you’ve been.” That often repeated adage is the principle behind an unusual field trip for a group of auto technology students.
On the morning of Dec. 4, 45 students from Southwestern Community College (SWCC) stepped off of two buses, bleary-eyed from their 5:30 a.m. departure and three-hour bus trip from their Creston, Iowa, campus to Lincoln, Nebraska. They were about to be awakened to a treasure trove of automotive history at the Museum of American Speed.
In welcoming the group, Clay Smith, president of Speedway Motors, provided the students and their instructors with an overview of the collection that his parents, Bill and Joyce Smith, had amassed over 50-plus years. The couple built Speedway Motors from a small storefront speed shop into one of the largest aftermarket performance and racing equipment enterprises in the country.
Though both have passed away, the Smiths were able to realize their dream of putting some 150 motorsports vehicles, 450 racing engines and hundreds of related artifacts on display in a modern building for the public to enjoy.
History of Racing
The docents who directed the small groups students through the 150,000-square-foot building were tuned in to point out how racing technology had advanced over a century – from a modified 4-cylinder engine that would propel a Ford Model T Speedster to the race cars in the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR topping 200 mph. One of the prime exhibits of technology is a Speedway-sponsored streamliner that exceeded 350 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats running a single small-block Chevy V-8.
For the students, the Miller Room was like stepping into the studio where famous race car designer Harry Miller worked to develop machines that would dominate the Indianapolis 500 for years.
Nearby in the Indy display sits one of the Miller-Ford race cars, a combination of Ford mechanical components engineered and designed into a car that raced at The Brickyard in 1935. With a backdrop that includes a section of the original Indy “Gasoline Alley” shops, the visitors could trace the advancement of racing engines from the four cylinder Offenhauser, which dominated for two decades, through Chevy, Ford, Chrysler and others with such innovations as overhead cams and turbocharging.
From engines to suspension and brakes, construction materials to driver safety, throughout the museum is a revelation of how new technologies have been tested and perfected on the race track and then transferred to the production line.
The museum’s location on the Speedway Motors campus also allowed brief side trips to the engine shop to witness a dynamometer demonstration, and to the “Area 51” race car
shop to see what new techniques and products the mechanics were developing. This included trying to coax 800 hp out of an LS-7 engine in one of the company’s test Camaros.
During a pizza lunch, Ray Motes, a retired world championship drag racer, talked to the students about how he transitioned his racing and auto industry experience into a chain of full service automotive centers in the Kansas City area. “You guys are in a good place (learning auto technology),” Motes told the students. “I pay my auto technicians more than I pay my accountant!”
Whether they envision going on to careers in design, mechanics or electronics, body repair, aftermarket sales – or just to tune up their weekend drag race or circle track car – these students went home well grounded with a wealth of automotive technology history.
This field trip was presented by Speedway Motors and Next Adventure in cooperation with the facility at Southwest Community College in Creston, Iowa.